The Ghost Writer by Alessandra Torre. Review. 

Sometimes, despite my best intentions to stick purely to my TBR I get drawn in and tempted by other books when browsing Netgalley, most of the time I end up with something either decent, or mediocre. But occasionally I end up with a book that’s so good it will give me the book hangover from hell. The Ghostwriter by Alessandra Torre is one of these books. 

I find reviews where I loved a book so much despite its maudlin content, really difficult to write. So be patient with me reader, please. 

The Ghostwriter’s main character is Helena Ross, a published author of romance novels who pulls in 6 figure advances (I know right, a budding writer’s dream), she is a snarky, self absorbed, grumpy, old woman in a 32 year old’s body. Then she finds out she is terminally ill. The diagnosis and her short prognosis convinces her that it’s time to write a novel about her own life. Her confession. The reason her behaviour has become even more erratic, the reason she lied to the police and the reason that her husband and child are no longer with her. 


This book had so many emotions. I was tearing through it at a rate I rarely do these days, so absorbed did I become in Helena’s story. A character who is so flawed, so desperately unlikeable and yet one we can all relate to. The solitary life of a reader and writer who cares for nothing else but. 


The distress she feels and the anticipation at finally discovering what had happened. The writer leads us along the path of the ghost writer themselves, learning everything about Helena before the final secrets are revealed. Causing us to live, moment by moment with her, desperate to know, making our own assumptions until wham! It hits you like a dumbbell in the face. 


This novel walks away with an easy 5* rating. This is One that will leave me reeling for a while. 

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Beren and Lúthien by JRR Tolkien. Review. 

I’m finding this review quite hard to write and had originally decided not to even do one. You see, like most people who love reading and particularly those who love high or epic fantasy, I have an admiration for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But when a well meaning family member bought me The Simarillion I found that I just couldn’t get into it. The same for The Lost Tales etc. Basically when it comes to Tolkien I love only stories with Hobbits in them. 


Trying to read anything else about the history of Middle Earth, for me, is like forcing my way through Beowulf or Ivanhoe. It just becomes tedious, boring and I struggle to get into it. I don’t profess myself to be a reader of grand texts. I like a story I can get into it. And that’s why this review is hard. While I fully respect the work of art that is Beren and Lúthien I just didn’t really enjoy it. 


The beginning part of the novel is mostly a preface and notes from the editor; Christopher Tolkien. One thing I certainly did like was this section and the other explanations, extracts from letters etc which are spotted around in the different chapters. I also enjoyed the actual story of Beren and Lúthien because it was fairly short and easy to understand. But for the most part the book is mainly very long and boring poetry. That part I didn’t like so much. It was worth a read all in all but I can’t say I’ll be rushing to pick it back up again! 

The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood. Review 

The Crow Garden is the first novel I have read from author Alison Littlewood and it was a rare treat! I love the idea of novels about madness but it is rare that I find one so well written, most I have found dance around with innuendo and mystery and I find that quite frustrating. Not so with The Crow Garden with echoes of Shutter Island Alison Littlewood builds tension with a novel where everything is evident to the reader and not to the characters themselves! 


Nathaniel Kerner is determined to become an Alienist or ‘mad-doctor’ treating patients in an asylum to atone for his father’s suicide, for which he blames himself. Soon he finds himself in his first position at Crakethorn, an old Manor House and now asylum where he meets the beautiful yet damaged Mrs Harleston. But as tension builds between the characters the lines between madness and sanity become blurred. 


Spotted with the poetry of Browning and Byron, the story tells of a terrible love story woven with insanity, in a time when it really was unclear who was mad and who was not. A time when Doctors were allowed free will to carry out barbarous treatments and patients could be admitted purely for being epileptic. The setting on the Yorkshire Moors and the time which is perceived to be Victorian times only add to the dark and cryptic storyline. 


Alison Littlewood’s writing reminds me a lot of the writing of Daphne Du Maurier and I feel that is the biggest complement I can afford the author of The Crow Garden a fantastic novel and highly recommended! 

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Review. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like being scared. Despite this, a few years ago I watched The Woman in Black because I figured something with a 12 rating couldn’t scare a 20+ year old woman. Wrong. But despite being scared witless I really wanted to try the book. Which I have now finally done! 

I really enjoyed The Woman in Black it’s a fairly short novel only 200 pages long but it’s 200 pages of white knuckle fear, or at least it was for the biggest scaredy cat in the world (me). 


Arthur Kipps is a young solicitor, sent to out into the countryside to a small town surrounded by marshes, to attend the funeral of an old client’s death. The town is shrouded in mystery and nobody seems to want to talk about the deceased Mrs Drablow or her weird old house only accessed at low tide. And when Arthur spots a curious looking woman dressed in black at the funeral he finds the townsfolk shutter up even more. Cue weird experiences and ghostly goings on when he goes over Mrs Drablow’s house; Eel Marsh House. 


I found the book to be both interesting and scary. Which I think is the best kind of horror. I have no interest in gore, aliens, etc. But I do like a ghost story which troubles you and causes a psychological reaction, The Woman in Black successfully achieves this, with a mystery at the centre of the hauntings. Susan Hill’s description of her narrator’s terror, told in a first person narrative is utterly believeable because it is exactly the kind of fear we have all experienced. 


Spine tingley good, I just hope I can sleep tonight! 

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen. Review. 

Tess Gerritsen is an author who I already respect and admire as an amazing crime thriller author. Her Rizzoli & Isles series about detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles have already taken the world by storm with a 12 book series plus short stories and a TV adaptation. 


I Know a Secret is the 12th and most recent novel in this series and I am pleased to say that it was as gripping and engaging as it’s predecessors. I loved getting back into the world of the two friends who couldn’t be more different and yet connect with each so well. 


I Know a Secret find the duo investigating a series of weird murders which the two Know are connected but cannot prove. As the plot thickens they have a suspect in mind but is he just that little bit too obvious? Meanwhile a mysterious girl haunts the funeral, she knows all the victims and she knows what their connection is, but there’s no way she’s ever going to tell her Secret. 


I can’t really say much more about the plot without giving anything away but I will say that there is more to it than meets the eye and secrets never stay buried! 

An excellent crime thriller, fast paced, intriguing and keeps you guessing until the end. 

How to Read Classics 

The classics, we think of Dickens, Brontë, Austen, Wilkie Collins, Miguel De Cervantes and Alexander Dumas and most of the time we think of great big, dusty tomes with tiny writing across hundreds of pages in a language long forgotten and difficult to read or sometimes awkward notations to explain humour in a work translated from another language. Mostly we think boredom. 


But despite that, many of us whether avid readers or not, are determined that we need to read the classics, to broaden our minds, to enjoy books which are supposed to be like works of art. So how to do we do it without becoming incredibly bored? Here are some helpful tips on how I read classics. 


According to my Goodreads shelves, I’ve read 188 classic books and I still have a fair few on my tbr as well. Some, like Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility I’ve loved, while others like Hard Times I have despised. So my first piece of advice would be that if you are finding it incredibly boring, don’t understand it or are really not getting any enjoyment out of it. Put it down and don’t bother. There’s absolutely no point in reading something which feels like a chore or which you are not deriving pleasure from. Life is far too short after all. 


My second piece of advice would be to look to films and tv adaptations. Firstly because watching them gives you a greater and simpler understanding of them and secondly because usually if they’ve been adapted it means they’ve been enjoyed. Look at books by Charles Dickens for example. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations have all be adapted several times with great success and are very enjoyable reads. Meanwhile Hard Times and Bleak House have not seen the same the same level of success and are much less enjoyable books. Bleak House in particular is as miserable as it sounds. 


Start with some short ones. If you’re brand new to reading the classics there’s absolutely no point in starting with a novel which is 1000+ pages long and putting yourself off for life. Try something lighter first and in the same sense, try something a bit more ‘modern’. I can really recommend any of Oscar Wilde’s novels and plays which are funny and short, any of the Sherlock Holmes stories and The Turning of the Screw by Henry James.


Finally, my best piece of advice when tackling a large Classic is to read something else alongside it. For example at the moment I’m reading Miguel De Cervantes classic comedy novel Don Quixote it’s just shy of 1,000 pages long and although funny, it is tiresome when read for long periods of time, so I’m limiting myself to 100 pages a day. I read 50 pages in a morning and 50 pages at night and in between I read something lighter and more modern. That way I don’t get bored of the long descriptive passages and the old fashioned language. 


I hope my few tips on reading classics will help you, please share in the comments any methods you may have! 

September Author Interview – L.L McNeil 

This month I’m really excited to host not only a brilliant independent author but someone I feel I am lucky enough to now call a friend. 

Lauren is an independently published author who reached out to me back in the spring to ask me to read and review her debut novel Moroda. You can check out my review here: https://lifehasafunnywayofsneakinguponyou.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/moroda-by-l-l-mcneil-review/

Lauren has kindly agreed to do this month’s interview and I am very excited to host her! 

What was your background and how did you get into writing? 

I’m a Copywriter and have worked in Marketing / Marketing Communications for quite a few years now! I’ve always loved writing, and as a child I was always making up stories! I always wanted to make a living from writing, which is what I do, but there’s something incredible about writing your own novels!

What are your ambitions for your writing? 

My previous ambition was just to get published! Next it’ll be to get the remaining books in the series out, but also to the same standard as book one, if not higher! Five novels to go…

But in truth, I’d like to be an author full time – to have my bills paid with my books. That’d be an epic achievement!
I’m really excited for the next books in the series! Which writers inspire you? 

Many of them! In particular, those who create complex characters, worlds that come to life, even created languages! Right now I have a lot of admiration for Leigh Bardugo and Patrick Rothfuss.
Writing fantasy requires a lot of imagination, particularly high or epic fantasy like Moroda. 

I really need to get into Leigh Bardugo! Where did the idea for Moroda come from? 

I came up with the original concept back when I was sixteen, so quite a while ago, now! I remember handwriting pages and pages of this idea, trying to get it down before I lost the thread of it. It combined a lot of things I enjoyed – dragons and quests, magic stones, a vast world. I remember very clearly seeing the university at Berel, and the ballroom scene in the palace of Taban Yul in particular. I even hand-drew a map of the world!

Moroda herself was actually the weakest character up until almost final draft. She was kind of dwarfed by all these strong side characters and I struggled to find the character and voice of Moroda until very, very late on. She was just kind of swept up in events and didn’t do much for herself – so I hope I’ve brought her back to be a more balanced character, with real motives and understandable behavior!


Are you working on anything new at the moment? 

I’m working on a spin off / collection of short stories which details some of the characters’ lives before the events of book one. These are very short reads, only about 10,000 words. The first one I’m working on is all about Amarah and how she became a sky pirate!

I’ve also written the first draft of book two in the series, which is called Palom. I’m currently working on editing that in the hopes of publishing it later this year.



So that’s due anytime now then! What do you use to do your writing? Pen+paper, computer, typewriter etc. 

I use anything and everything to jot ideas down!! I’ve always got a notepad in my bag, a couple on my desk at work, and loads more floating around at home! It’s nice to be able to write down a bit of dialogue or description of a scene as and when ideas strike! I also keep one by my bed in case my dreams throw up anything worth exploring!

For actual writing I use my laptop and stick with Word. I often have many files of notes – so I have a whole document on the world of Linaria, another on various characters and their arcs, another on currency, another on things I’ve written that I’d like to keep for another book, etc. Plus all my outlining and plotting!



It all sounds very complex! Would you ever consider writing in a different genre or is there a genre you wish you could write? 

I’m a fantasy fan through and through, so I can’t see myself writing another genre. I’m in awe of those who write thrillers and mystery. All that plotting and foreshadowing. It’s very complex!!


How often do you write? Do you set yourself a word target or just go with it when inspiration strikes? 

I try and set aside a couple of hours every night (although that’s gone out the window since publishing!) – I can typically write 2,000 words an hour, so once I’ve completed my plotting, I can sit down and churn out quite a lot. NaNo is very good for helping with accountability, too! 

I do need to get back into a routine, but often when you’ve been at work all day, the last thing you want to do is spend another few hours looking at a laptop screen!


What sort of publishing route did you choose and why? 

I went for self-publishing, though it wasn’t my original plan. I wanted to go traditional, and purchased the Writers and Artists Yearbook, shortlisted agents I wanted to query, etc. But by the time I finished my manuscript, I’d had a change of heart.

I mentioned having a Marketing background, including many connections and colleagues. I could probably do a lot of the things a publisher would do, by myself. Plus I’d keep full creative control, and I could get it out there faster. If I was picked up by a publisher right now, it could be another eighteen months before the book went out on shelves.

There are also stories of wildly successful self-published authors who have later been picked up by a traditional publisher, so something like that could happen if my series takes off! You never know! 



From what I’ve seen so far Moroda is continuing to be very successful How do you market your books? What have been your marketing successes and failures? 

I’m quite active on Twitter and Facebook, so I’ve run a few ad campaigns there. I’ve also done some “author takeovers” and interviews like this one (many thanks again for the opportunity!). I’m part of a fantastic writing group called Garage Fiction who do a weekly podcast that I’m now involved with, which is awesome fun! 

I have an author website and blog which I post to at least weekly (including a series on my self-publishing journey and mistakes I made!), and I’m currently working on creating a book trailer. I’ve also commissioned an illustrator to create some beautiful artwork of the eight main characters from the book, which is awesome!

I approached people on Goodreads who typically read my genre and asked if they might like to receive a free copy for review, and I’ve also run a couple of Goodreads Giveaways, which has really helped with visibility and a few reviews have come from it. I’ll be exhibiting at some of the UK film/comic-cons, too!

It’s a constant learning curve. I don’t have an emailing list or newsletter (yet! I’m working on some added content for this), and a lot of my marketing efforts probably would have helped more if they were done before the book was released! But it helps to have this in place for when it comes to book two!

 
It sounds like you know what you’re doing! If you could be the original author of any book what would it have been and why? 


Oh gosh, that’s a tough one! So many! I’m in awe at the scope of A Game of Thrones, so I’d probably have to go with that one! Sorry for choosing the obvious!


What are your views on good and bad reviews? How much do you think the success of books relies on reviews? 


Touch wood, I’ve not received a bad review yet!! I’m still expecting one/several; certainly, as I have critiques about the book and shortcomings I’m not happy with. Good reviews make me giddy and I often cry when I read them, haha!

I am hugely influenced by reviews. If someone I follow on Goodreads leaves a four or five star review for a book and I like the synopsis, I’ll immediately add it to my “to read” list. If that book is part of a series, I add the rest of the series without looking! I love paperbacks too, so tend to rush out and buy those!

I think on a site like Goodreads, reviews will help the success of an unknown book or author. Amazon supplements this, too. 

Overall, reviews are very good, I think – especially when you hit about 50+, so I’m always asking those who’ve read my book if they’d be kind enough to leave a review!

Thank you so much for joining me this month Lauren it’s been a pleasure to have you! 

If you want to see more from Lauren and get the latest updates to can visit the website and social media pages below! 

http://www.llmcneil.com 
https://twitter.com/LLMcNeilAuthor https://www.facebook.com/LaurenAuthor/  http://www.llmcneil.com/blog/  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16468949.L_L_McNeil https://www.amazon.co.uk/L.-L.-McNeil/e/B06VVFY3DC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 

 

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